RIDGEFIELD, NJ - New York Jets offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison is not someone who you would think would be an empathetic speaker on bullying to third through eighth grade students. At 6-4, 300 pounds, Harrison is an imposing figure. Yet, after hearing him tell his story to the 800 students of Slocum Skewes School in Ridgefield on Friday, students walked out with appreciation on the topic.
Slocum Skewes School was one of three schools selected from the STOMP Out Bullying program, presented by the Jets, the STOMP Out Bullying and Municipal Credit Union. In August of 2017 over 200 educators from the tri-state area attended a symposium on cyber-bullying and shared best practices.
Attendees had the opportunity to implement the Jets Upstander of the Week program at their schools during the season, which highlights an upstander each week on Twitter. Schools received 50 tickets to award to students along with a Jets Upstander of the Week t-shirt. Slocum Skewes School was honored for their 16 Jets Upstander of the Week posts during the season that displayed efforts to stop bullying.
At two assemblies (one for grades 6-8, the other for grades 3-5) STOMP Out Bullying CEO Ross Ellis spoke briefly about effective strategies on how to handle bullying before having Harrison speak to the students.
Harrison told the students that as a child growing up in Florida, he moved quite frequently, and as the new kid on in neighborhood, never felt accepted or part of the crowd. Further, being tall and over 200 pounds at age 11, he was an obvious target for bullies.
He told a story about, after his family moved to the area he would go to school from fifth grade through high school, he was riding on his bike through some open lots where homes had not been built yet, and had rocks thrown at him by older kids, who thought it was funny to throw rocks at the big, somewhat clumsy kid on the bike.
After this had happened for a while, the group (which consisted of both boys and a girl), approached him and said they would leave him alone, if he kissed the girl's foot. He remembers still, at age 26, how that made him feel.
At the end of his speeches, Harrison presented the Upstanders with an autographed football.
After Harrison spoke, there were question and answer sessions, coordinated by Jesse Linder, Senior Director of Community Relations for the Jets. While a middle schooler's question “Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold?” got a chuckle, and a quick “Sam Darnold” from Harrison, it was a question from a third through fifth grader that hit home a little more.
When asked if any of the bullies ever apologized, Harrison laughed, and said “No.” but they had tried to gain favor with him as his football career began to take off, “looking for free tickets.”
“I told them ‘Don’t you remember what you did to me? How you made me feel?’”
Linder then followed with a trivia contest in which students were asked questions based on the presentations, with the students getting the answers right receiving an autographed Jets hat from Harrison.
Wood-Ridge football coach Charlie Trentacosti, who is a teacher at Slocum Slewes School, raved about the program.
“I think this is a great program,” Trentacosti said. “I think it is something that a lot of schools could benefit from.”